Do's and don'ts of holiday entertaining with etiquette expert Mindy Lockard | Home Front

Mindy Lockard
Dec 01, 2016

Mindy Lockard, founder of The Gracious Girl, is an etiquette writer and speaker. For over a decade, Lockard has worked with colleges, businesses, and corporations speaking about the power of interpersonal interactions through etiquette.

She is here today to talk about the do's and don'ts of holiday entertaining. Ask away.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating and design questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and decluttering. For more than ten years, Home Front has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small, send them over.

I really enjoyed speaking with Mindy Lockard for an article I did today about holiday table settings and etiquette. You can read  it here. Mindy, founder of The Gracious Girl blog, is an etiquette writer and speaker. For more than a decade, Lockard has worked with colleges, businesses, and corporations speaking about the power of interpersonal interactions through etiquette. She can advise you where to seat your mother in law and which way to point the knife blade when you set a table.  So send in your questions. Let's chat. 

Good morning, Jura and everyone! It is such an honor to be here and to have had the opportunity to consult on your recent article on table setting etiquette. I am really looking forward to today's chat and exploring ways we can all be our gracious best this holiday season. Two of my favorite topics!

I noticed the "no-no" butter plates on your dinner table design. Butter plates are properly used only at lunch, never dinner. Are we updating protocol?

Great catch! I love your etiquette knowledge and you are correct that bread and butter plates are not served at formal dinners -since the menu is planned carefully and to provide sufficient nourishment and taste. However, bread and butter are often served at informal dinners.  We added to our diagram as so many dine informally these days and we wanted to give a progressive setting for today's current home host/hostess.

Hi! I'm doing a family xmas with the in-laws. I was told that the other aunts are giving really inexpensive gifts to the 9 or so "kids" (ages 10 to 25), which is great. I have a tendency to splurge since I don't have kids and I hate to shop. What would be some good, cheap unisex gift ideas in the $5-10 range? I don't want to look like a dope by overdoing it. Thanks!

Great question! Some of the best gifts we can give children is the gift of activity. Giving them items they can use to interact not only with each other but with adults. Games and art supplies an be inexpensively purchased and not only make great gifts but memories as well. 

I'm a fairly new WaPo reader and really enjoy your chats. I keep seeing a number posted during the chat, but never see what it's for (I must be looking in the wrong place?). When you post this number could you explain what it is? Thank you.

Thanks for asking! I am sure that others were wondering also. The Post Point Code that I post each week has to do with our Washington Post, Post Points Reader Rewards Program - Here is a link so you can learn more. 


My spouse and I are spending our last Christmas in the US before moving abroad with his family on the other coast. On top of what is generally an emotionally-fraught holiday, there are concerns for our safety abroad, the first Christmas in his parents' new home (no longer in his childhood house), the last time we'll see relatives for several years, etc. How do I help manage *his* expectations for what this Christmas will be like? Even though we're in our 40s, he gets his hopes up so high and then is hurt when the results aren't what he imagined (think, Rockwell-esque family coming together). Everyone is good people and we genuinely love one-another, but because we only can see everyone once every 2 years or so, a lot of weight is put on each visit.

I think we call all relate to the disappointment of a failed Rockwell-esque holiday expectation. Especially if anyone has tried carving a turkey at the table... ha! My suggestion is to chat with your spouse in advance about these expectations and see if they can be adjusted. It also may be helpful to plan ways to defuse questions that might be related to fear of your upcoming move. Be each others wing man (or woman). Also keep in mind that the greatest gift we can give is the give of our presence. Putting expectations and our cell phones aside to really invest in those around us. Asking questions not to create conflict, but to get to know each other. Making eye contact and listening. Sometimes we assume that we know our family, but there are aways ways we can be surprised and inspired by each other. 

OK, am I blind? I don't see the Post Points Reader Rewards number! :-( BTW, I printed out the table setting.... very helpful. Thanks!

Hmmm. okay I thought I just posted it but here it is again

HF6967 - Glad you liked the table setting chart!

Hi Mindy! What is your recommendation for towels in the bathroom for a rather large holiday party? I am expecting around 50 people, so I expect to need multiple hand towels. I prefer to be as green as possible, so I hate the thought of disposable paper towels, but do you think that would be the more guest-friendly option? I will make sure to have both regular hand soap and anti-bacterial hand soap, some good plug cleaner, and also extra rolls of toilet paper to appease everyone and avoid any incidents, but I don't want to blow it with the towels!! Thanks!

Great question! I love that you are being mindful of the environment, that's truly gracious of you. Here's an idea and a great trick from the mother on my best friend. She purchases small inexpensive, but nice, wash clothes that she beautifully rolls and keeps in a basket on the counter. She keeps a separate waste bin for these clothes (and sometimes puts one in it just so guests know what to do). 50 may seem like a lot, but an investment for future... and great for the planet. 

My grandma expects a lot of attention when she visits,sometimes she has difficulty getting up out of chairs, but other times it seems like she's acting entitled. Is she entitled to being waited on because of her age, or is there a polite way to ask her to clean up after herself?

Thank you for asking this question, I think we all have a family member or two that requires extra attention. While you can ask her to clean up after herself, you run the risk of offending her. My suggestion is to do the opposite, love on her. As a hostess it may be hard to focus all of your attention on one guest, so dedicate grandmas service to another family member. At first this may seem like a chore, but there is something beautiful that happens in our hearts when we serve... and you may just find a softening in grandma's entitlement too. 

I've recently remodeled my kitchen from floor to ceiling. I'm looking at doing a horizontal subway tile backsplash and am thinking about having the area over the stove be a different, patterned tile, with a pencil edge. What do you think of that? Are people still doing that? And for my subway tile, do you recommend a straight stacked or a brick pattern?

Personally, I would keep the same tile throughout the space to unify it. I personally prefer the brick pattern. What do the rest of you think?

Do you think paper guest towels are okay? What about terrycloth towels? Or are you a purist and think beautifully ironed linen guest towels are what you should offer at a holiday party?

I do think paper guest towels are okay. If you are going the disposable route, I prefer a Masslinn towel. They are a bit softer on hands and sanitary as well. 

Today's Miss Manners question was from someone who was upset that when she asked the host what she could bring to dinner, was told exactly what dessert and where to buy it. Can you help hosts and guests navigate this evolving area. A potluck is more straightforward - but when invited, should we ask if we can bring something? Suggest something specific? turn up with a hostess gift? nothing at all? When hosting, what should we do if someone asks if they can bring something? brings something unsolicited? Time was, you didn't ask, brought a hostess gift of chocolate or flowers - but it's got much more complicated!

You are right, this is an evolving area. Traditionally when you were invited to a party, you weren't required to bring anything but a hostess gift. But times are changing. It's my opinion that if a host/hostess wants complete control, he/she should plan to provide specific items. However, if help is needed and offered, general direction is helpful but a mandate most often will not be received well. It can never hurt to ask a host or hostess if there is anything needed for an event. However,  outside of a potluck, a host or hostess should never expect guests to bring anything other than a hostess gift and to come ready to have a wonderful time. 


How about going "old-school" with CDs? Many are under $10.

I love "old school" ... I teach etiquette after all! I would just make sure that they have a retro CD player. 

The jury has now come back against anti-bacterial soap ... .

Interesting you should mention this. I am a big fan of bar soap. But my powder room has a very very tiny corner sink with no room for a bar of soap. So I buy an expensive bottle of liquid soap that lasts a long time and it gives off a beautiful scent when you wash your hands. No anti-bacterial soaps for me.

Loved the article in today's Local Living on setting a lovely holiday table. I'm hosting a holiday brunch for some friends and am looking forward to using my grandmother's and great grandmother's china, linens, etc. I love place cards because I like to break up couples (at the dinner table only!) and encourage interesting groups for conversation. Do you know anyone who makes festive ones that I could pick up for the occasion? Thanks, Jura and Mindy, for such a great article.

Thank you for your kind words about the article. It was such a pleasure working with Jura on it. You and I share a love of place cards for the same reason. They are a great way to get your guests minding. I like to make my own or have my girls make them. There are a lot of great ideas on pinterest. If you are looking to purchase them, you will find a great variety at locally owned stationery stores. Shopping local is always gracious as well. 

Is it me, or are some of today's questions less HomeFront-ish and more Carolyn Hax-like? :-)

Ha! You are very right! We all know that amidst the crazy merry-merry pace of the holidays is also a faint feeling of dread. Will we be able to keep our strong opinions to ourselves? Will we buy the right gifts? Will we serve food that everyone can eat? Will relatives behave or misbehave? Will love and peace on earth prevail? Every year, these questions are all re-imagined. I think everyone needs reassurance and support during this season.  So it's good to talk about some of these things on our chat. Thanks everyone for your great questions and for Mindy for helping us navigate the festive, mine-filled season!


to anyone dining at your home who has food restrictions. In addition to being a cancer survivor, I am a type 2 diabetic, and only a few friends, but no family know this. If someone doesn't eat a particular thing, don't demand an explanation, don't harrass them about their choices. I've had to walk away from tables when I didn't pile my plate with pasta. Very upsetting and embarassing. Just let people take what they want without comment.

Indeed, we should always keep our eyes on our own plate!  During my etiquette programs I always suggest that a guest graciously let their host know in advance if they have food allergies, sensitivities or medical conditions. This allows the host to best prepare for his/her guests and the guest to arrive anxiety free and to be able to truly enjoy their time!

Hi Mindy: Thanks for your diagram of table setting. Can you tell me where the salad plate should go? Is it okay to serve the salad on a salad plate on top of the dinner plate?

Absolutely, the salad plate can be placed on the dinner plate or service plate if served. Doing so saves space on the table which many of us need a the holidays -- how lucky are we to have so many friends and family?

Unscented hand soap is better. No worries about allergies. Also, I personally HATE having soap scent on my hands. It affects how my food and drink taste!

Another opinion!

Having coworkers over for a holiday cocktail party (our office party was canceled this year, boo!) and I want to keep it simple so I have time/energy to enjoy the party too! I'm thinking chips and homemade dips, throwing some mini quiches in the oven, and greeting guests at the door with a cocktail. Any other ideas/tips would be appreciated!

I love greeting guests at the door with a drink! However, sometimes I find that making the drinks distracts me from chatting with my guests. To help, I set up a DIY cocktail bar with mixing for a couple of drinks, fresh fruits and fun rimming options. Not only does this free me up to mingle, it's a bit of an icebreaker for my guests too. 

Several years ago, my nephews made pumpkin place cards for Thanksgiving - we always go to my in-laws. They are lovely and I enjoy seeing them every year. Last year my mum took hers home - so after letting her enjoy it for a while, I quietly gave it back to MIL. We all just got to enjoy them again.


I have always enjoyed parties with DIY cocktail stations! Make sure you provide some "suggested recipes" for people to follow, and also have some fun colored sugars so people can give their cocktail glasses fun and exciting rim jobs!

Last year, my niece made place cards out of mini-pumpkins, with everyone's names on them. I brought mine home and then when it started rotting, chucked it into the garden. Lo and behold, in June it started growing and I got 8 pumpkins from it. The gift that kept on giving! PigtownDesign

Where does the salad bowl go when you are having a salad that is important to be with the meal? For example, in today's informal dining, you may have a meal that includes pasta / lasagna, salad, and garlic bread, which all should be enjoyed together. How big of a table must one have to spread all of this out??

For informal dining it is okay to not serve a salad plate or bowl. However, if you think that guests will fill their plate with pasta and not have room for a salad, you may offer one that is typically place to the left. 

Honestly I always have options of scented and unscented soapys when I host parties because you never know what people want and I hate to think of disappointing one of my guests!!! I know I always like to use scented myself since if I am alone it can make me feel alive again by smelling my hand and thinking a pretty girl is with me. But if I am wine tasting I prefer unscented obviously.

Lots to consider!

What a fun chat. Thanks for tackling some of these holiday dilemmas. Don't forget to read my other entertaining stories today about choosing and caring for tablecloths with George and Mindy Matouk and creating a magical party atmosphere with the creative ideas of Ken Fulk. Next week: Washingtonians Michael and Ally Banks talk about their custom built home and how to make your place special.

What a fun chat this has been! Thank you to Jura and The Washington Post for having me. Wishing all of you a most wonderful gracious holiday season!

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

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Mindy Lockard
Mindy Lockard, founder of The Gracious Girl, is an etiquette writer and speaker.
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